Beneath the sun of Insomnium

Insomnium is a paragon of constancy, in terms of album releases, music (which never really strays from the sound the band has built for themselves), and quality. Said constancy has been rewarded by a fanbase that grows with each new release. Repetition is a good way to “educate” the audience, after all. With their latest album, Shadows Of The Dying Sun, Insomnium prove they have truly found a winning formula. Even the introduction of a new guitar player, Markus Vanhala (Ville Vanni could no longer juggle the band and his career in the medical field), hasn’t altered their trademark melodic and melancholic death metal. On the contrary, injecting new blood into a band is often an inspirational booster.

We talked about all this with guitarist and main composer Ville Friman in the following interview. We tried, among other things, to understand the band’s relation to their own music, as well as its underlying Finnish melancholy.

« We want to develop in our own style but within the limits where we feel comfortable. So, we don’t want to follow any marketing people or other people telling us what we are supposed to sound like. »

Radio Metal : The album has been recorded in two separate studios. Why is that?

Ville Friman (guitar/vocals): We wanted to try different options. First of all it was cheaper and logistically easier to record everything in Finland. So, we recorded the drums in a nearby studio where our drummer lives, so he didn’t have to drag his drum set around across the country and it was easier for him. He could go working his day job and then he could come to the studio afterwards and record a couple of songs and he didn’t have long days, so it was easier for him. And then we recorded the rest of the stuff in Kotka, in the south of Finland, where our bass player and another guitar player live, so it was just convenient and nowadays it’s just easier to transfer files between studios so it doesn’t really matter much.

The music of Shadows Of The Dying Sun really is a continuation of what the band has established with previous records. Is it important to remain faithful to what the fans expect from the band, and not make too drastic changes?

I guess that’s probably one truth but we don’t think about that much about fans, maybe a bit but foremost we think about ourselves and I think it also reflects the fact that we want to do this kind of music and we don’t want to change too much. I think we found our style and we want to develop in our own style but within the limits where we feel comfortable. So, we don’t want to follow any marketing people or other people telling us what we are supposed to sound like or if we want to be bigger or a bit more commercial, we don’t think about that, we just do what feels right and hope that it’s also something that pleases our fans. I guess you could say that fans of metal music in general are traditional, in a way, and when they find a band they want the band to sound the same all the time or change within these kind of narrow limits, in a way. But there’s nothing wrong with that and we need to remain faithful to our sound and our roots, but then you need to try to move on a bit and develop within the realm of your own sound and what you want to do. So of course you need to try to take it a bit further and go forward, but our intention never was to change too much or too drastically or follow someone else’s opinion or wishes, we just do what we like and hope that it pleases our fans as well.

“Black Heart Rebellion” ventures a little bit more in the black metal realm while “Lose To Night” is one of your softer and more melodic songs. Did you want to have all of the Insomnium musical side on this album and to accentuate them, to make it a more contrasted record?

I guess we didn’t think too much about whether the songs sounded too black metal or too pop or too soft, we were just like, as long as it’s good songs and as long as we get them to work, let’s put them on the album, so we didn’t think about that too much. We let our music be contrasted. We have had different kind of songs previously, so in that sense it doesn’t come as a surprise and I think it’s also some kind of trademark and it reflects our musical days within the band. We like different kinds of stuff, so we don’t see it as a problem to have different kinds of songs on Insomnium’s albums either.

[about Markus Vanhala] « Now I think he probably feels he’s more a part of the band because he has added his own musical imprint on the album with his songs. »

Do you think contrast and dynamics is what make an album interesting and exciting from its beginning to its end?

Yeah I think this is partly true, we want to try and build this kind of theme and you can’t go from one to a hundred all the time, or you can but you’ll be a bit too repetitive or maybe boring, it depends what you like, of course, but especially if you think about the new album, it’s one hour long so it’s quite a lot of music, so you have to have variety in there. You will become boring and repetitive if you just have one type of songs. So I guess that’s something we want to do and I like to play different kinds of songs and if you want to have long albums or a good, strong album in its entirety, I think it’s just natural to have more variety and you have your ups and downs and you’re building up the contrast and you’re building up the emotional and musical side and you have crescendos and so on, so I think it’s important to have the diversity, yes.

Shadows Of The Dying Sun is the first album to feature new guitar player Markus Vanhala. Apparently he had a big role in the writing process. Did he bring some new influences to the band?

Yes, there’s like two whole Markus’ songs and then there are a couple of other songs where he has been collaborating with me and Niilo and we wrote those songs together, so he has directly brought his musical input. And of course, also, in terms of playing solos and all kinds of guitar arrangements, we did everything together in the studio, so he’s definitely been bringing in a lot of influences and a good creative spirit, I would say. It’s not so different from what we have done before and he’s been listening to Insomnium for a long time so he can understand what Insomnium is about musically, so he can adapt his songwriting and his songwriting is solid according to Insomnium, so it’s not too difficult. But yes he has a big role, I brought maybe 80% of the music but he did bring the other 20% with Niilo, so he has a big role.

Did the fact that he came into the band three years ago, right after the release of One For Sorrow, and toured with the band, helped him to familiarize himself enough with the style of Insomnium for this new album?

Yeah, I think it’s definitely had an impact. We’ve been spending a lot of time on tour, living in the same bus, so you get to know people and I think it was essential for him to become a core member of the band. I think you just need to have that, I guess it’s important for him because he just came to the set table last time so he didn’t really participate on One For Sorrow but now I think he probably feels he’s more a part of the band because he has added his own musical imprint on the album with his songs. So I think it feels more like a whole thing, now, he is properly involved and has been involved in making this new album.

By the way, can you tell us more about Ville Vanni’s departure?

There’s nothing special behind that. It’s just that it’s very tough having this double role, going to work and get vacations in time for touring and have all the band activity and still have a professional career outside. He wanted to pursue his career in the medical world, so it just became obvious that he didn’t have time to concentrate on the band anymore and it was a mutual decision. It’s something, if a band needs to and wants to be together and we want to continue as a band, we need to do some changes and there was nothing traumatic behind that, it was just that having the day job and the band became too difficult for him.

« It’s a metaphor for this kind of ephemerality of life. We only have this one moment and we’re just shadows cast by the sun. »

Insomnium’s albums usually begin with a two to three minutes song with an introductory kind of vibe. Where does this tradition come from?

I don’t know, we came up with this idea and I think it’s appropriate. Already on our second album we had some kind of intro and I think it probably comes from the early 90s with the Swedish melodic, death melodic scene, a lot of bands used some kind of intros and of course we were big fans of that, so we decided to start experimenting with that. The first intro was more like just a piano interlude and growing into the next song, and then we had actually some shorter songs as intros. I think it’s kind of our trademark and we like to do that, they normally work really well when you’re starting your live sets as well, so you can use that as an intro on your gigs. It’s a tradition, like an old trademark we just decided to use all the time because it works really well, yeah.

The album is called Shadows Of The Dying Sun, which is a title typical of melancholic or doom metal bands. But what does this title symbolizes for you? Does this represent the kind of light we see in Finland some parts of the year?

It’s more like some kind of scientific and philosophical metaphor for life in general. Basically when you think about all the energy generated by the sun that turns into living organisms on this planet, we’re also part of this energy in a way and in a way we’re also mere shadows, just here for a short while before we die and go away. Even the sun is going to die someday, it’s like it’s mortal as well, it will explode and everything will end. So it’s a metaphor for this kind of ephemerality of life. We only have this one moment and we’re just shadows cast by the sun.

We often notice that some of the most melancholic or depressive bands are in fact made of some of the most joyful musicians. Is there also this kind of paradox in Insomnium?

Yeah I would say that we’re not too gloomy and sad all the time, we want to have fun and enjoy life in general, but I guess if you look around you see that the world isn’t perfect and of course everybody has their own problems and personal issues and maybe it is that we bring that side up more in the music. It’s something that is sometimes probably difficult to understand or even communicate about. So we bring those thoughts or ideas even though they’re not necessarily personal all the time but it’s something you see around you and maybe you bring this side in your music more often because it’s hard to put it into words, so putting it in lyrics, music I guess is one way to express these feelings.

« I am a happy person but then I can easily relate to people and the pain people go through, of course you have your own issues, your own demons in your life. So for me music is some kind of outlet for dealing with those things. »

What actually draws this deep melancholy into your music?

It’s a good question. I guess we’re deeply melancholic. I am a happy person but then I can easily relate to people and the pain people go through, of course you have your own issues, your own demons in your life. So for me music is some kind of outlet for dealing with those things, and I can’t really explain why it comes out that way but that’s how it is. For me even though the music itself can be sad, the whole process is very healing and positive for me, just making the music. We get a lot of feedback of the same thing, like if people are experiencing the feelings, the songs actually make them feel good although it’s sad emotions. So I think even though it’s melancholic, it’s kind of positive for both, the musicians and the fans and the listeners.

Finland is partly known in the metal world for its melancholic bands such as Amorphis and Sentenced. Can you tell us more about the influence of these bands on Insomnium?

Yeah I think Amorphis was a big influence and of course also Sentenced, those are really big bands for us when we were in our teens, and they’re the first extreme Finnish bands to get recognition outside Finland. Yeah we really loved those bands and it has been an honor to tour with Amorphis, for example. Of course we’re really into Swedish melodic death metal scene, all the Götenburg bands, Dark Tranquility, At The Gates, In Flames, all this kind of stuff. We actually like extreme stuff but we love a lot of melody and the melancholic side of it, so it was a natural way to express music for us as well. So yeah, Amorphis are still a great band and it’s great to see that they’re growing strong all the time, we definitely drew a lot of influences from them.

Interview conducted by phone on March, 17th 2014 par Metal’O Phil
Transcription : Judith
Questions and introduction : Spaceman

Insomnium official website: www.insomnium.net

Album Shadows Of The Dying Sun, out since April, 28th2014 via Century Media Records.

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